The Importance of Listening

A defence of Daniel Radcliffe and the Trevor Project, who have shown us the value of listening to young people.

As far as I’m aware, Daniel Radcliffe is not on Twitter. Perhaps he’s better off for it. In the last few days, I’ve seen such bile, such vitriol aimed in his direction. There’s also been an onslaught of articles written about him, all claiming he’s utterly wrong. What, you might ask, is his supposed great crime? Listening. Specifically, listening to young trans people.

Daniel first started working with the Trevor Project in 2009, promoting awareness of gay teen suicide prevention. He has donated and raised significant sums for various organisations that support not only young LGBTQ people, but young people as a whole. He has long been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights. It should come as no great surprise to anyone paying attention that someone who has spent so much time actively listening to others advocates for listening to young people when they speak of their experiences and of who they are.

Yet, when Daniel recently hosted a roundtable for the Trevor Project which consisted of many young trans and non binary people, and came to the conclusion that these are people worth listening to, he came under attack. It’s very much a case of the usual suspects. The out-and-out transphobes as well as those who just claim they have “concerns”. Some have taken to insisting that his pregnant cis girlfriend must be trans, based solely on the fact that Daniel supports trans people. Other personal attacks have been vile, and anyone who dares to speak in support of him get caught up in it too. More widely speaking, anyone who dares to speak up for the autonomy of young trans and non binary people face all kinds of despicable accusations.

Let us first address those who say they just have “concerns” about young people identifying as trans or non-binary. They insist, by and large, that young people cannot possibly make such a decision. They say they’re too young to know themselves. Yet, a young cis person can know themselves with absolute certainty. Funnily enough, I recall being told I was too young to know I was gay, yet my straight friends could know their sexuality with no questions asked. Those who say that linking gay rights with trans rights is a false equivalence are deluding themselves, or else flat out lying. It all comes down to one thing; the assumption held by some that everyone is meant to be straight and cis, and that any deviation from this must be challenged.

We, all of us, have the right to self determination. It is all that we, as a society comprised of individuals, can truly rely on. Nobody convinced me I was gay. I knew it to be true. A fundamental part of who I am. Nobody had to tell me I was cis either, because I have never suspected I might not be. The same goes for trans and non-binary people. This drive that some individuals, organisations and even governments currently have to ride roughshod over the autonomy of trans and non binary people is sickening. It is also just as insulting as those who tried to tell me that I wasn’t really gay. They claimed to know me better than I know myself, and that is impossible. All that makes up who we are as individuals is for us alone to determine. That’s the very essence of being an individual.

This is not to say that our understanding of who we are never evolves. Of course it can. However, such a journey is for the individual in question to take. If they are fortunate enough to have supportive people around them, then they will not take that journey alone. The direction is still very much in their hands, however. There are those who would seek to hijack the journey and tell that individual where they should end up, or indeed where they might end up. We’ve heard the claims that most young trans people later realise they’re gay, and that going down a path of affirmation for being trans is somehow ‘erasing’ gay people. Such claims are utter generalisations with no real bearing on the lives and experiences of individuals, yet there are many who would seek to use these claims as justification for curtailing the autonomy of young trans people.

The sexuality of a trans or non binary person is for that individual to determine. The second you begin assuming that a young person cannot seek a gender-affirming path because they might change their mind later, you are robbing that person of something that many cis and straight people take for granted. The right to know yourself.

We return once more to the nature of Daniel’s perceived offence. He sat down and listened to a group of trans and non binary people, when for some the only acceptable approach is to talk over them. Daniel Radcliffe has become the target of so much hatred from the GC (transphobic) crowds because his approach lays bare the arrogance and the futility of their own. Talking to, rather than at, young trans people and treating them as individuals rather than a generalisation, shows us the difference between those who seek to treat them with genuine respect and those who wish to police their identity. Riding roughshod over the autonomy of an entire demographic only works if you steadfastly refuse to listen to them.

I watched the roundtable. I wholeheartedly recommend it. I hope more people will be willing to listen to young people rather than dismiss them out of hand simply because they’re young. All too often, even in this modern world, it can take a great deal of bravery to stand up and say “This is who I am”. Everyone deserves to be listened to.

I’d like to close by re-affirming my support of Daniel Radcliffe, the Trevor Project, and of the LGBTQ community as a whole. In the face of relentless attacks for just standing up and being ourselves, we must stand united. There are those who attack us who may, one day, realise that we are not a threat. Such a realisation begins when they decide to listen. Let Daniel’s efforts and the bravery of the six trans and non binary people in this video be an example to all.